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ELIZABETH DAY: The sight of the Queen on her own will stay with us for years

What a day it was. Blue skies. Bright sunshine. Turreted shadows cast across green, green lawns. It all looked so beautiful, so stark in its resonance.

But there is a peculiar anguish of sunshine for those who are grieving. It seems so painful that the world can carry on with such dazzling grace when you have lost the one you love. It is a feeling that will strike a chord with many this year in particular.

The brutal absence of a family member, a friend, a loved one who has died and who must now be lived without.

The sight of the Queen on her own in the chapel, head bowed so that all we saw of her was blackness, was heartbreaking – a picture that will stay with us for years.

What must it be like to say goodbye to the man who, in marrying her, was also wedding himself to a life of duty lived relentlessly in the public gaze?

Perhaps this was why watching Prince Philip’s funeral felt so emotional. His life had been given to public service. His death was a chance for the public to pay back its respects, and also to remember all the others who have died during the pandemic, whose funerals have been far quieter affairs, whose mourning has necessarily been done behind closed doors.

Perhaps this was why watching Prince Philip’s funeral felt so emotional. His life had been given to public service

Perhaps this was why watching Prince Philip’s funeral felt so emotional. His life had been given to public service

The Queen, always aware of her role, would doubtless have realised this. In moments of crisis, we seek out the unchanging certainties. For many of us, this is what the Monarch represents. She has seen us through global wars and national division. She has cut ribbons and unveiled plaques and given her time to charity. She has never once complained. She has kept her emotions private.

She is a stalwart presence who has, quite simply, been there all my life. My parents were born either side of the year she married Prince Philip. She has spanned the generations.

For much of it, the Duke of Edinburgh was either by her side or following a few steps behind as her loyal consort.

The day of his funeral was the first time that he went before her – carried by a Land Rover he had designed himself, followed by members of his family on foot and the Queen in a maroon State Bentley that made her look small and vulnerable in the back seat.

And here the Queen was, alone and adrift, as so many of us have been over the last 12 months

 And here the Queen was, alone and adrift, as so many of us have been over the last 12 months

The sight of the Queen on her own in the chapel, head bowed so that all we saw of her was blackness, was heartbreaking – a picture that will stay with us for years

 The sight of the Queen on her own in the chapel, head bowed so that all we saw of her was blackness, was heartbreaking – a picture that will stay with us for years

She was accompanied by her dear friend Lady Susan Hussey, known affectionately as the Queen’s ‘No 1 Head Girl’.

But even her closest friends couldn’t have filled the gap. According to the Queen’s former private secretary Lord Charteris, it was only Philip who could treat the Monarch ‘simply as another human being’.

What must it be like to say goodbye to the man who, in marrying her, was also wedding himself to a life of duty lived relentlessly in the public gaze?

What must it be like, at the age of 94, to share your personal grief with the nation, to know that every glimmer of emotion, every shiny-eyed moment will be captured on zoom-lensed cameras and beamed on to the world’s TV screens?

The tension between how she was feeling on the inside and the performance required by the rest of us, would sometimes have been almost unbearable. What strength does it show, that she was able to do it?

Leave aside your thoughts on regal privilege, or your personal position on the Royal Family. For a moment look at this purely as a human story. Look at the Queen as a woman, a mother, a grandmother, a great-grandmother. She arrived at St George’s Chapel, her shoulders stooped, her face masked. There was the tiniest stumble as she walked along the flagstones in low-heeled court shoes to greet the Dean. And then, through force of habit perhaps, she looked back.

According to the Queen’s former private secretary Lord Charteris, it was only Philip who could treat the Monarch ‘simply as another human being’

 According to the Queen’s former private secretary Lord Charteris, it was only Philip who could treat the Monarch ‘simply as another human being’

Covid regulations meant that mourners were limited to 30 and sat in their household bubbles. It brought it home to us, with stark clarity, that the Duke of Edinburgh was the Queen’s bubble. He was her support

 Covid regulations meant that mourners were limited to 30 and sat in their household bubbles. It brought it home to us, with stark clarity, that the Duke of Edinburgh was the Queen’s bubble. He was her support

She looked back at her husband.

He was in front of her now, in a coffin covered by his personal standard, his cap and his sword, long ago given to him by the Queen’s father.

There was no one beside her as she took her place, alone, in the choir stalls by the altar. No one with a comforting physical presence, who could reach out and give her hand a familiar touch. The person who should have been doing that was no longer there.

Covid regulations meant that mourners were limited to 30 and sat in their household bubbles. It brought it home to us, with stark clarity, that the Duke of Edinburgh was the Queen’s bubble. He was her support. He was, as she once said, her ‘strength and stay’.

And here the Queen was, alone and adrift, as so many of us have been over the last 12 months. As the sunlight filtered through stained glass windows designed by her late husband himself in the wake of the 1992 Windsor Castle fire. His sketches depicted a fireman dousing the flames.

The day of his funeral was the first time that he went before her – carried by a Land Rover he had designed himself, followed by members of his family on foot and the Queen in a maroon State Bentley that made her look small and vulnerable in the back seat

 The day of his funeral was the first time that he went before her – carried by a Land Rover he had designed himself, followed by members of his family on foot and the Queen in a maroon State Bentley that made her look small and vulnerable in the back seat

Princess Anne, Princess Royal, Prince Charles, Prince of Wales, Prince Andrew, Duke of York, Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex, Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, Peter Phillips, Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, Earl of Snowdon David Armstrong-Jones and Vice-Admiral Sir Timothy Laurence follow Prince Philip

Princess Anne, Princess Royal, Prince Charles, Prince of Wales, Prince Andrew, Duke of York, Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex, Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, Peter Phillips, Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, Earl of Snowdon David Armstrong-Jones and Vice-Admiral Sir Timothy Laurence follow Prince Philip

I wonder if the Queen thought of this as she sat in the choir stalls. I wonder if she remembered how much they had been through together.

For this, surely, is what a lasting marriage represents – a partnership strong enough to withstand the ebb and flow of difficult times because of a belief in something greater; because of a belief that this too shall pass.

How she will miss his humour and irreverence, his duty and his energy, the steadfastness of his love. How she will miss the quieter moments, the private exchanges and jokes we will never know about.

He has been by her side for all these years. And yesterday, she had to let him go. Her life will never be the same now. Next week, the Queen will celebrate her birthday – the first time she will do so without Philip since she was 21. She will be 95. A shared life can last seven decades and, at the moment of parting, it can seem like no time at all.

Prince Charles, Prince of Wales, Prince Andrew, Duke of York, Princess Anne, Princess Royal, Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, Earl of Snowdon David Armstrong-Jones, Peter Phillips, Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex, Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex and Vice-Admiral Sir Timothy Laurence prepare to set off from the castle behind the coffin

Prince Charles, Prince of Wales, Prince Andrew, Duke of York, Princess Anne, Princess Royal, Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, Earl of Snowdon David Armstrong-Jones, Peter Phillips, Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex, Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex and Vice-Admiral Sir Timothy Laurence prepare to set off from the castle behind the coffin

She was accompanied by her dear friend Lady Susan Hussey (pictured), known affectionately as the Queen’s ‘No 1 Head Girl’

She was accompanied by her dear friend Lady Susan Hussey (pictured), known affectionately as the Queen’s ‘No 1 Head Girl’ 

As the Duke of Edinburgh’s coffin was lowered into the ground underneath St George’s Chapel, the Garter Principal King of Arms read out his official titles. One phrase stood out amid all the others: ‘Husband of her Most Excellent Majesty Elizabeth II.’ So it was that a loving wife watched her husband go. She did so with the stoic dignity we have come to expect of her.

She once told her grandmother Queen Mary that ‘handkerchiefs are for waving rather than crying into’. But her pain must have been acute.

She seemed, at one point, to wipe away a tear, but always at the core of the Queen’s self-hood has been the unshakeable belief that the responsibility she carries is bigger than her own feelings. I can’t help but think Prince Philip would have been so proud of her, all over again. He once wrote to his mother-in-law, ‘Cherish Lilibet? I wonder if that word is enough to express what is in me.’

They cherished each other. When the Queen emerged on the Chapel steps after the ceremony, blinking into the still-there sunlight, she was clutching an Order of Service to her chest. It was what remained of him, her beloved. She would hold him close, even in death.

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